ImpactAlpha, Aug. 23 – A year ago, Vivek Ramaswamy, then an upstart asset manager, thought his attacks on ESG investing had been misunderstood.
The author of “Woke Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” Ramaswamy said he wasn’t against social justice or climate action or racial equity. Or even necessarily against corporate action on such issues. What rankled him most was the argument that such actions increased shareholder value.
“Political questions should be resolved through the political process,” Ramaswamy told ImpactAlpha at the time. “Leave politics to the politicians. As companies, we focus on what allows us to be most successful as businesses, period.”
Politics, it turns out, was irresistible to the smooth-talking striver, who has gone from relative unknown to third in the polls for the Republican nomination for president.
As Ramaswamy takes his message to the national stage tonight at the first Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, he’s distancing himself from the “woke” debate he helped stoke.
“The use of labels can often be confining and even limiting to the quality of that debate,” he said last year.
Still, he opposes hate speech bans and affirmative action, and explains away racial inequities as the result of a preponderance of single-parent Black families. He promises a “Ramaswamy revolution” that would abolish the FBI, IRS, and Department of Education and end “the climate cult.”
Ramaswamy may be getting more traction as a Republican runner-up than he did as an asset manager.
As the anti-woke backlash gained steam, he positioned Strive Asset Management as a vehicle to vacuum up the assets pulled from BlackRock and other financial firms banned by politicians in Florida, Texas and other Republican-led states.
Strive’s flagship ETF, a fossil-fuel stuffed energy fund with the ticker DRLL, had roughly the same amount of assets under management in June as it did when it was launched last summer, according to researchers at Yale, Ramaswamy’s alma mater. (And nevermind that the top holdings, from Exxon to Exelon, all market their ESG and sustainability bonafides).
Strive has fleshed out initial offerings like DRLL with more standard growth and value ETFs, but total assets have not approached $1 billion. The firm’s engagement results have been even more underwhelming.
For the 2023 proxy season, Strive fielded a proposal that would have Chevron reverse its Scope 3 emissions reduction mandate, voted for by shareholders a year earlier. It got just over 1% of the vote; even Chevron advised against it. Another marquee proposal was aimed at rescinding a racial equity audit urged by shareholders at Home Depot. Once again, neither management nor investors bought into Strive’s request.
Ramaswamy stepped down from the firm to launch his presidential bid; the investment is run by Matt Cole, a former CalPERS portfolio manager, and Strive cofounder Anson Frericks.
Strive isn’t the only conservative fund struggling. 2nd Vote Funds, launched in 2020, plans to liquidate its ETFs for conservative investors after failing to attract enough assets, according to its CEO, David Black.
Strive isn’t the only conservative fund struggling: 2nd Vote Funds, launched in 2020, plans to liquidate its ETFs after failing to attract enough assets, according to CEO, David Black.
The American Conservative Values ETF, which has ridden anti-woke boycotts of Target, Disney and other U.S. corporations, has attracted a mere $40 million – and underperformed the S&P 500.
Dennis Price contributed to this article.